ARCHEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES IN THE HOLY LAND LEAD US TO JESUS' UNUSUAL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
by Val Wineyard, author of “Mary, Jesus and the Charismatic Priest.”
In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at the friendships of Jesus and Mary in the town where they lived – these included the Roman soldier, Petronius, the tax collector Matthew, who worked for the Romans, and the rebel Pharisee, Jairus.
More about the Crucifixion
Let’s have a look at what it actually says in the Gospel of Peter, as I found it on www.earlychristianwritings.com
After Joseph of Arimathea persuaded Pilate to let him take the body down after only three hours (when it generally took three days to die), then;
“He took the Lord, and washed him, and wrapped him in a linen cloth, and brought him into his own tomb, which was called the Garden of Joseph.
Then the Jews and the elders and the priests, perceiving what evil they had done to themselves, began to lament and to say, Woe for our sins: the judgement hath drawn nigh, and the end of Jerusalem. And I with my companions was grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple. And upon all these things we fasted and sat mourning and weeping night and day until the sabbath.”
You remember that Peter - “the rock” - was the one that denied Christ three times before the cock crew? Yes, the disciples were scared. They all disappeared.
It was just the three Marys that stood watching the crucifixion, but at some distance away. Indeed it would have been horrible to witness, The victims often fouled themselves with terror or sweated profusely; they cried out in their torments and the Romans merely played dice or told jokes about their women - it was everyday life for these soldiers, to watch people dying horribly for three to six days.
I believe it was Petronius who persuaded the passionate Mary Magdalene in particular, to stay a distance away, as it says in Mark’s gospel. Religious pictures depict her at the foot of the cross, crying and washing Jesus’s feet with her tears, and clinging to him in an almost sexual
rapture - it just wouldn’t have been like that. Then;
“But the scribes and Pharisees and elders . . . were afraid and came to Pilate, beseeching him and saying, Give us soldiers, that we may guard his sepulchre for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away, and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead and do us evil. And Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to guard the tomb. And with them came the elders and scribes to the sepulchre, And having rolled a great stone together with the centurion and the soldiers, they all together who were there set it at the door of the sepulchre; And they affixed seven seals, and they pitched a tent there and guarded it. And early in the morning as the sabbath was drawing on, there came a multitude from Jerusalem and the region round about, that they might see the sepulchre that was sealed.
“As the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend from thence with great light and approach the tomb. And that stone which was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in.
“When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion (Petronius) and the elders,- for they too were hard by keeping guard; and, as they declared what things they had seen, again they see three men coming forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, Hast thou preached to them that sleep? And a response was heard from the cross, Yea.”
I think these two paragraphs are a bit of poetic licence from the author Peter, to add drama! the guardian soldiers then debated whether they should report these happenings.
“And while they yet thought thereon, the heavens again are seen to open, and a certain man to descend and enter into the sepulchre. When the centurion and they that were with him saw these things, they hastened in the night to Pilate, leaving the tomb which they were watching, and declared all things which they had seen, being greatly distressed and saying, Truly he was the Son of God.
“Pilate answered and said, I am pure from the blood of the Son of God: but ye determined this. Then they all drew near and besought him and entreated him to command the centurion and the soldiers to say nothing of the things which they had seen: For it is better, say they, for us to incur the greatest sin before God, and not to fall into the Hands of the people of the Jews and to be stoned. Pilate therefore commanded the centurion and the soldiers to say nothing.
“And at dawn upon the Lord's day, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord, took her friends with her and came to the sepulchre where he was laid.
“And they feared lest the Jews should see them, and they said, Although on the day on which he was crucified we could not weep and lament, yet now let us do these things at his sepulchre. But who shall roll away for us the stone that was laid at the door of the sepulchre, that we may enter in and sit by him and do the things that are due? For the stone was great, and we fear lest some one see us.
“And they went away and found the tomb opened, and coming near they looked in there; and they saw there a certain young man sitting in the midst of the tomb, beautiful and clothed in a robe exceeding bright; who said to them, Wherefore are ye come? Whom seek ye? Him that was crucified? He is risen and gone. But if ye believe not, look in and see the place where he lay, that he is not here; for he is risen and gone away thither, whence he was sent. Then the women feared and fled.
“Now it was the last day of the unleavened bread, and many were going forth, returning to their homes, as the feast was ended. But we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, mourned and were grieved: and each one, being grieved for that which was come to pass, departed to his home. But I, Simon Peter and Andrew my brother, took our nets and went to the sea; and there was with us Levi (Matthew) the son of Alphaeus.”
Incredible! Peter and Andrew and Matthew WENT?FISHING? Just after their beloved Jesus had disappeared and they were mourning? It MUST have been a true account, no-one would have said that unless it were true.
The conventional gospels.
We need to look at what the New Testament says about the centurian present at the Crucifixion. (I would add here that in the Stations of the Cross in the churches here in Languedoc where I live, there is a centurian in all but three; but he doesn’t seem to be doing much, he’s just there, sometimes raising his shield on high as though to protect somebody.)
The first three gospels give quite a similar account. In Matthew, after they had crucified him and divided his clothes among themselves, verse 36; “And they sat there and watched him.” I thought that was strange. Jesus was given some cheap wine and then died; the centurian and the soldiers with him were watching and experienced the earthquake, which caused them to say; “he really was the Son of God.” Compare this to the Gospel of Peter. The women were looking on from afar, as they were in St. Mark. In verses 62 – 66 of St. Peter the Pharisees asked that the tomb be guarded to prevent his body being taken and false rumours spread, but the implication was that Pilate told them to find their own guard, who would report back to the chief priests.
In Mark, 15, 33 - 39 the “army officer” - Petronius - standing in front of the cross saw how Jesus had died. “This man really was the Son of God” he said. In verses 42 to 46, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’s body and Pilate was surprised Jesus was dead so soon. He asked the “army officer” to confirm it, then Pilate said Joseph could take down and bury Jesus’s body.
In Luke 44 to 47, there was darkness at mid-day and Jesus died at 3.
John’s gospel is rather different. It was almost noon when Jesus died and the women were standing close to the cross. The army officer said; “Certainly he was a good man!” This is the only gospel to mention that Jesus’s legs were not broken because he had been proved to be already dead by a sword thrust into his side. There is no mention of guards being put on the tomb.
So what really happened?
We will never know the details, unless more hidden gospels are found that explain all. My idea is this;
The Bible give us no time-scale for the events leading up to the Crucifixion, just tells us Jesus was arrested on the Thursday night and was tried twice, once by the Pharisees and once by the Romans, and was then crucified and was dead by mid-day the next day - Friday. In reality this process would have taken about three days.
If Petronius - “the army officer” - was there at the crucifion, how did he get there from
Capernaum? Did Herod Antipas, who employed him, summon him to Jerusalem with his men because he was afraid of rioting? Leaving the profitable customs post on the Via Maris unguarded? It seems unlikely.
Could it be that when Petronius in Capernaum heard that his friend Jesus had been arrested in Jerusalem he came as quickly as he could, possibly down the Via Maris? He came to see if he could do anything at all to rescue the man he loved, his friend who had saved his son’s life. The distance was eighty miles, on a main highway he could have done it in 36 hours, travelling overnight. But he arrived too late.
Anything Petronius could do would have to be, as they say in modern life, a loss limitation exercise.
When he arrived, he made Mary Magdalene and the other women move away to save them distress.
Petronius gave Jesus a drug on a sponge on the point of his sword or spear and Jesus lost consciousness. Then the Roman Longinus pierced Jesus’s side with his sword and Jesus was proved to Pilate to be dead.
Petronius was there and saw Mary Magdalene’s tears when she washed and prepared Jesus’s body for the tomb. They knew each other and both loved Jesus. My writer’s imagination wonders; did she not sense the faintest flicker of a heart-beat under her hands? Did she look up and meet the eyes of Petronius who loved her and Jesus? And did Petronius then offer to guard the tomb and gave the other men strong wine to make them sleep so that Jesus could escape?
My theory is, after all, more likely than angels descending from Heaven!
And, a strange little coda to this story, in St. John 21: 2 - 5. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanial from Cana, the sons of Zebedee, John and James, and two other disciples were all
together. Simon Peter said to the others “I am going fishing.”
“We will come with you,” they told him.
They went out in the boat but that night they did not catch a thing. As the sun was rising, Jesus stood at the water’s edge . . . then he asked them; “Young men, have you caught anything?” “Not a thing,” they answered.
So Jesus told them what to do, and they caught so much fish the nets nearly broke, and on the shore was a charcoal fire and some bread, so they roasted some of the fish and they ate together.
It was as though Jesus had never been away.